Race for a School Place

Race for a School Place

Organisation: Trinity Mirror Data Unit (United Kingdom)

Publication Date: 04/09/2015

Description

Applying for a state primary or secondary school place is often a fraught experience for parents, and children, where there is a need to balance getting the right education with finding schools they have the best chance of being accepted for. Most councils and schools use a list of over-subscription criteria, based on things like religion for faith schools, talent and interest in particular subjects, educational needs, and distance from the school. The Race for a Place project, which ran in all of the major regional titles, aimed to give parents more information about which schools are over and under-subscribed in the previous years, to help them better assess their chances of getting a place, when combining this information with the rest of the list of acceptance criteria. http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/special-report-reveal-greater-manchesters-7995712 http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/special-report-reveal-greater-manchesters-7995688 http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/how-many-parents-fighting-children-8001392 http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/revealed-race-places-across-merseysides-8002613 http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/families-race-school-places-across-8010868 http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/race-school-place-how-in-demand-7993856 http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/race-school-place-trojan-horse-7992703 http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/race-school-place-how-popular-8004658 The data from the project comes from freedom of information requests to all of the councils in the regional newspaper areas, asking for the number of places available at each school, the number of applications, with a breakdown by preference level where possible, and the number of offers, broken down by preference level where possible, in the preceding school year. The responses generated a large amount of messy data, in a variety of formats, which needed converting from PDF, cleaning, and collating to create a usable dataset. The dataset was used to create print-ready tables, which were a key component in the print coverage, as well as an interactive widget that allowed readers to explore the available data. The print tables were designed by Dmitri Thompson and aim to convey the information in a readable and easy to understand way. The creation of the tables uses an automated system, where the basic format is designed and then the contents of each table is automatically generated using code which draws from the original dataset. The tables were used as part of the print coverage, as well as online. Most papers ran a two-day series highlighting the figures, while the Manchester Evening News ran two eight page supplements. All titles saw a circulation boost on the days they were running the Race for a Place series. The interactive news app, built by Carlos Nóvoa, also draws on the original dataset, and aims to make it easy for readers to find the schools they are interested in. It has a clean and simple interface, which echos the print tables, and makes it easy to understand which schools are oversubscribed and by how much. The Trinity Mirror Data Unit is a team of five data journalists, a coder and a designer, who work to provide data focused news, graphics and web apps. Part of the focus of the team is to use exclusive data to find stories and create interactives that make the data useful for a local audience, particularly through longer-term projects that focus on issues that readers are likely to be most interested in. Using the freedom of information act gives us, and readers, access to data that would not usually be seen, and the combination of print and online interactive tools aims to make it as accessible as possible to people.

Technologies used for this project:

Excel to collate and clean the data HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery to create the interactive Photoshop and spreadsheets to create the graphics
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